It starts with “Mummy, my tummy hurts” and ends with you sprinting across the carpeted floor, bucket in one hand, towel in the other, praying it’s just a one-off spew.
Whether it’s a one-time thing or an all-night vomiting bug, here’s everything you need to know about vomiting in kids – the causes, what you can do about it and when should you see a doctor.
Vomiting in kids is incredibly common but also incredibly awful for both you and your child. You’re probably wondering what in the heck is going on (and who will be next in the family to get it). Your child is most likely feeling very unwell, possibly in pain and maybe even panicking every time the urge to spew returns.
Causes of Vomiting in Kids
When we mums are vomiting, it’s usually due to one of four reasons – we ate something weird, we had too much to drink, we picked up a stomach bug, or we’re pregnant. Kids, on the other hand, vomit a lot more often than adults as their tummies are not quite as strong as ours just yet.
The most common reason kids vomit is because of gastroenteritis, or gastro, which causes inflammation in the stomach and intestinal tract. Also known as the stomach flu, gastro is highly contagious and generally leaves little ones (and their caretakers) vomiting for 24-48 hours.
Other symptoms: In addition to vomiting, gastro also tends to bring fever, stomach aches, headaches and diarrhoea (which can last for up to 10 days).
Cold and Flu
While most of us don’t vomit when we have a cold or flu, children can. This is simply their way of fighting off the intruders in their little bodies.
Other symptoms: Fever, headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, and muscle aches. Make sure you read our influenza guide for more information on treating cold and flu.
Ear infections are quite common in children and sometimes, when little tummies are fighting off this type of infection, it can cause them to vomit. In general, antibiotics are needed so you’ll need to take a trip to your GP.
Other symptoms: Other symptoms to suggest it could be an ear infection include pain in the ear, ear discharge, fever, headache and loss of appetite.
In addition to ear infections, your child’s vomiting could be caused by another type of infection such as a urinary tract infection or pneumonia. These infections will require a GP diagnosis and most likely antibiotics.
Other symptoms: If your child has a fever, this may indicate an infection.
The dreaded car sick spew! This is probably the best possible reason for vomiting as it only lasts a short while. Your child may be motion sick if they’ve just been in a car, on a train, plane or boat. But it can also happen during play. My son has been motion sick after playing on the swings at the park, jumping on the trampoline and even swimming in the ocean waves!
Other symptoms: Dizziness, burping, sweating and headache.
Appendicitis is a painful swelling of the appendix which can cause vomiting that gets worse over time. It often requires a trip to the ER. However, your child will be in a lot of pain if it is appendicitis.
Other symptoms: Watch for fever, chills and severe, sharp pain near the navel or the upper abdomen.
Another thing that can cause vomiting in kids is food allergies. If you do suspect a food allergy, see your GP.
Other symptoms: Raised, red, itchy skin, rash, hives and swelling of the face – particularly around the eyes, lips, tongue or the roof of the mouth.
One of the more worrying reasons your child could be vomiting is due to meningitis, an infection that requires urgent medical attention. Meningitis often starts out with symptoms similar to the flu but it can progress very quickly.
Other symptoms: Signs to watch for include fever, cold hands and feet, drowsiness, stiff neck, headache and pale blotchy skin. See our article on meningitis facts for more information.
Food poisoning feels a lot like gastro but the vomiting can last a bit longer (anywhere from 24 hours to 4 days). The most common causes of food poisoning include salmonella, e coli, rotavirus, and norovirus.
Other symptoms: In addition to vomiting, food poisoning can bring on diarrhoea and abdominal cramps.
Children are curious beings and have a habit of swallowing things they shouldn’t. If your child has swallowed something poisonous, then it can cause vomiting. Go to the emergency department right away if you suspect poisoning.
What about vomiting in babies?
Babies tend to spew a lot more than children and adults. Many infants will vomit after every milk feed and this is nothing to be concerned about. However, there are a few other reasons your baby could be vomiting including reflux, a food allergy or milk intolerance. If you are concerned about your baby vomiting, see your GP.
My Child’s Vomiting. SEND HELP! And Icy Poles!
In most cases, you can treat your child safely at home. Here are a few things you can do to keep them as comfortable as possible.
Offer plenty of reassurance – Whenever my son gets a vomiting bug, he becomes incredibly anxious that something is seriously wrong with him. He has trouble breathing and he often works himself up into a panic attack. Reminding your child that it‘s all going to be okay, that the vomiting will stop, that it’s his body’s way of getting rid of the yucky bug and that it will be over soon, can help keep them calm during the stormy spew sessions.
Offer plenty of liquids – The most important thing you can do when treating vomiting in kids is to keep them hydrated. Offer little sips of water in a cup or through a straw every 15 minutes. Beg them (or bribe them) to take it, even if they spew it up five minutes later.
Consider medicine for vomiting child – Consider a trip to the chemist to pick up Gastrolyte, HYDRAlyte, Pedialyte or Repalyte which are different types of oral rehydration fluid that can be used to replace fluids and body salts. They are also available as icy poles, which kids often gobble down willingly.
Go for dry foods – Every child is different when it comes to what they can stomach after vomiting but most aren’t going to be up for a massive roast chook with all the fixings. So stick to crackers, toast with butter and other bland foods.
Keep them comfortable – Line the couch and the carpets with plenty of towels and buckets and make sure you stay close to comfort them when they feel another wave of nausea. Tie their hair back and give them some water to rinse their mouth out afterward. My kids like to be able to brush their teeth after they spew. Just be sure to bin the toothbrush after (and wipe down everything! GLEN 20 to the rescue!).
When to See a Doctor
See a doctor if:
- Your child is repeatedly vomiting and is unable to hold down fluids
- You think they’re dehydrated – symptoms of dehydration can include a dry mouth, crying without producing tears, urinating less or not wetting many nappies, and drowsiness
- Their vomit is green or contains blood
- They have been vomiting for more than a day or two
Go to the ER if:
- Your child is vomiting and develops sudden and severe tummy pain
- You notice your child is floppy, irritable, having trouble breathing or less responsive
- Your child is vomiting and complaining of a stiff neck or has a rash
- You suspect your child may have swallowed something poisonous
Watching your child vomit is never a pleasant experience, for you or for him. But just remember that it will all be over soon.
Trust your instinct and if you feel like it’s more than just gastro, a bad cold or a yucky case food poisoning, then don’t hesitate to call your doctor. When it comes to your child’s health, it’s always better to err on the side of caution.